Discovering what life is like away from my immigrant family at Queen's

How breaking the expectations set by my parents made me finally feel free

Aysha's first year forced her to confront her parents' expectations.
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The first night I spent at Queen’s in my residence room was hellish. I wasn’t feeling the tricolour spirit, and I missed home desperately. I wanted to go back to Scarborough.

Granted, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Within a few weeks, everyone I knew was craving a home-cooked meal and a night in their childhood bedrooms.

I went home the first weekend I could, when I didn’t have many academic responsibilities or any tedious group project meetings. I neatly packed my duffle bag with new Queen’s merchandise and stood patiently in front of Victoria Hall, waiting for the Tricolour Express.

As soon as my bus pulled into Scarborough Town Centre, a weight lifted off my shoulders. I felt like I was back where I belonged: in the vibrant streets of Toronto, where restaurants stayed open late and I was surrounded by people that looked like me.

But the sight of my family’s black Camry in the parking lot left me with a different heavy feeling. I realised that as soon as I stepped into the car, I would be under my parent’s watchful gaze again.

 But the sight of my family’s black Camry in the parking lot left me with a different heavy feeling. I realised that as soon as I stepped into the car, I would be under my parent’s watchful gaze again.

I’d have to keep my bedroom door open at all times. I’d have to listen to all my mother’s criticisms. I’d have to ask before leaving the house, even for a bike ride around the block—all despite legally being an adult.

In some ways, I’m expected to be the perfect daughter to my immigrant parents who worked so hard to get me to Queen’s. I’m forced to live my life as an apology for not going to medical school.

This sounds like a stereotype, and I would be angry if anyone who isn’t a first-generation Canadian pointed it out, but it’s true. As soon as I was back in my old bed, staring at the ceiling and making a mental note to buy a mattress topper for residence, it all came back. I remembered the hopelessness I’d felt lying there on sleepless nights during my high school years.

The beginning of my first year had already been a different experience than my home life. So many things had become my responsibility, and while this was overwhelming for many of my friends and peers, it never bothered me. Thankfully, it gave me the chance to be a little bit selfish.

I could go out when I wanted. I could wear dresses and skirts without tights underneath. I could talk and yell and Skype my boyfriend without having to whisper so nobody in my house would hear. I could be what I considered a normal Canadian kid.

Best of all, I didn’t have to care what my parents had to say about any of it. I could move through a day without worrying about where my actions would lead me in a decade.

Soon, going home became more of a burden than a relief, and that made me feel so guilty that I couldn’t stand it. As much as it upset me to hear my parents nag me, it felt awful to think that all I wanted was to get away from them and their voices. My parents drove taxis, worked night shifts, and took risks so I could end up in a better position than they did. I felt selfish, and like I was living a lie at Queen’s.

In my mind, they’d been given one chance to have a perfect daughter and I took it away from them—but my parents’ ideas of a perfect daughter differed from mine.

They wanted someone who studied hard but wasn’t showy about it. They wanted someone who didn’t go out too much, but enough that she was social. They wanted someone smart, but not outspoken. They wanted someone modest, but not shy. They wanted someone ambitious, but not too confident. They wanted someone who listened patiently to every word they said.

I wondered if it ever crossed their minds to want a daughter who was happy.

 I wondered if it ever crossed their minds to want a daughter who was happy.

That said, I’ve never doubted how much my parents love me even for a second. They would never say those words out loud, but they show their love to me every day in their silent sacrifices. That’s the reason I’ve always wanted to make them proud.

Like in any immigrant family, they’ve always put their own happiness aside to survive, and somewhere in that journey, happiness became a sign of self-indulgent weakness. To my family, a good life is hard, and it should only be hard as a sign of strength.

I struggled with my own selfishness for the majority of first year, all while discovering what happiness could feel like on campus. Joy eroded my guilt, culminating during the last week of my second semester, when I was close to heading home for the summer.

One night, I came home to my West Campus room from a late-night walk. I never got to go out at that hour at home. I collapsed onto my bed and folded my arms across my chest, listening to my boyfriend telling me stories about his day. He was far away but felt close, and I had nowhere else to be and nobody to impress.

I realised at that moment that my new life was okay. I realised I was a good person, and that all the things that might disappoint my mom and dad—the clothes, the friends, and the guilty pleasures—couldn’t take away from that.

 I realised at that moment that my new life was okay. I realised I was a good person, and that all the things that might disappoint my mom and dad [...] couldn’t take away from that.

I found out that to be happy, you have to disappoint your parents a little bit. Despite their sacrifices and hard words, you can’t live your life for others just because the world has convinced you that a first-generation child needs to work twice as hard to prove their worth.

Maybe I will never be the perfect daughter, and maybe that will never be okay with my family. This fact still breaks my heart a little, but that’s okay. I am just as important as the people who gave me a place in Canada.

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